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Ken Heyman, 89, dies; Collaborative photographer with a singular eye
Roy Lichtenstein © Ken Heyman

by Neil Genzlinger

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Ken Heyman, a leading photographer who worked with Margaret Mead, shot scores of assignments for Life magazine, collaborated with President Lyndon B. Johnson and endlessly sought new, revelatory ways of seeing the world, died on Dec. 10 at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.

His daughter Jennifer McCarthy confirmed his death.

Heyman first accompanied Mead, the noted cultural anthropologist, on a trip to Bali in 1957, and he took the photographs for “Family,” an acclaimed 1965 collaboration in which the two examined families around the world in images and text.

“The combination,” Jacob Deschin wrote in a review in The New York Times, “more integrated than is usual in word and picture associations, should make anthropology palatable for many who might never be inclined to pick up a book on the subject.”

The next year he collaborated with Johnson on “This America: A Portrait of a Nation,” a book intended to illustrate Johnson’s “Great Society” initiatives. Johnson wrote the text.

Those two books were among more than 40 that Heyman published, either on his own or in collaboration with writers. Some were whimsical, like a series of children’s books with Ann Morris that took a global look at particular subjects (“Bread, Bread, Bread,” “Hats, Hats, Hats”). Others documented the grown-up world, like “Pop Art” (1965) and “The Private World of Leonard Bernstein” (1968, with John Gruen).

“Ken Heyman seems to use his skill and the photographic process to allow other people, his subjects, to make their own pitch about themselves,” an essay about him in the book “U.S. Camera ’62” said. “He doesn’t really take pictures of people and things (or, God forbid, grind out endless examples of his own cleverness). He photographs feelings and relationships.”

He would often do so from unexpected perspectives, a technique illustrated by “Hipshot: One-Handed, Auto-Focus Photographs by a Master Photographer,” a 1988 book of images shot with a cheap camera held at knee height, resting on the ground or otherwise positioned to capture an unusual perspective. Kelly Wise, in a review in The Boston Globe, called it “a book that almost hums with its own street sounds.”

Kenneth Louis Heyman was born on Oct. 6, 1930, in Manhattan to David and Ruth (Stein) Heyman. He first became interested in photography in high school, and once he enrolled at Columbia College he continued to pursue that passion, taking photographs for the campus newspaper, working late in the darkroom so often that he tended to sleep through his morning classes.

“I was put on scholastic probation,” he said in a 2012 video interview for the website What If It Really Works, “and during the Korean War those people were drafted.”

After two years in the Army, from 1952 to 1954, he returned to Columbia.

Studying to be a social worker, he tried one of the popular classes being taught by Mead. She invited students to include photographs with their final papers, and Heyman turned the invitation into a photo essay about boys he had been working with at a settlement house in Harlem.

“I got my first A,” he said, “and she called me into her office and said she wanted me to take her graduate course,” even though he wasn’t a graduate student. Not long after, she invited him to join her on a trip to Bali as her photographer, which he did after graduating in 1956.

Heyman had also begun going on assignments for Life magazine. In a 2014 interview with Sharpen, the online magazine of the American Society of Media Photographers, he explained how that came about.

“I was shooting a project for myself that I called ‘Broadway Islands,’ pictures of people around 112th Street, near Columbia,” he said. “I walked into the magazine’s office and showed them these images. They accepted the work and included it in their series known as ‘Speaking of Pictures.’”

He had essentially no formal photography training.

“The summer between my junior and senior year at Columbia I took a class at an art institute in the city,” he said. “I was kicked out because they thought I wasn’t serious enough. Working for Life magazine was my training ground.”

He ultimately shot more than 150 assignments for the magazine, he said. Other magazines to feature his work included Time and Look.

In 1975 Heyman collaborated with Mead, who died in 1978, on a second book, “World Enough.” He traveled all over the world photographing various cultures and customs, but he also photographed his share of household names, including Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. He especially liked to tell the story of one celebrity he met before he became famous.

In 1959 he paid a young artist $400 to paint a bathroom in his apartment. The resulting paint job included a tree, cherries, butterflies and two cats, one on the toilet seat. The painter was Andy Warhol.

A few years later, by then well known, Warhol was more than accommodating when Heyman asked to photograph him for the “Pop Art” book. But Heyman moved out of the apartment building without ever capturing the Warholian bathroom on film, and the building later burned down.

Heyman’s marriages to Wendy Drew and Brenda Redmond ended in divorce. In addition to McCarthy, from his first marriage, he is survived by his wife, Judith Raboy, whom he married in 1998; another daughter from his first marriage, Amanda Silverman; three sons from his first marriage, Tim, Chris and Jason; two stepdaughters, Sara Raboy Hanley and Amanda Raboy Lewis; and 16 grandchildren.

Heyman frequently taught or spoke to classes, including in elementary schools. He would sometimes pose a question to schoolchildren: If you had a third eye, where would you put it? It was a question that, he thought, had a correct answer.

“Most of them said in the middle of the forehead and that sort of thing,” he recounted in the 2012 video interview. “But the answer is, in the middle of the palm of your hand. Because you could look underneath things, you could look behind you.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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